For many years, our family has had a special place in our hearts for Vietnam Veterans and a special relationship with our local Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 913 in Branson, Missouri. For the past sixteen years, my husband has helped produce a benefit show to raise funds for them and the causes they support. Multiple times they have joined us on stage to pay tribute to veterans in our show.
The VVA 913 honor guard has presented colors at the annual “Remembering 9-11” ceremony that we are involved in each year. They are always there for us when we need help with something that honors veterans, the military, and the celebrates the United States of America. They are a great group of people and we have grown to love and appreciate them and cherish their friendship.
Every year as part of the fundraising concert, I have been asked to recite my poem, “I Am a Veteran,” but for more than ten years, I have wanted to write a poem specifically for Vietnam Vets, and dedicate it to the wonderful folks of 913. I knew it would not be an easy poem to write, and I pondered it for a very long time, wondering how to approach it. Just this past Spring (2019), on the Saturday before this year’s concert, the inspiration finally came.
The first line of the poem was “given” to me as the memory of an experience as 10 year old sixth grader in Veradale, Washington, came to my mind. I was the “new girl” at Progress Elementary, and on my first day of sixth grade, in 1970, a fellow student took me aside and while pointing to another girl in the class, whispered, almost reverently, in my ear, “That’s Toni. Her dad is a prisoner of war.”
I didn’t know what that meant, but I remember to this day how I felt when those words were spoken. Somehow, even in my innocence, I sensed their gravity. I later became friends with Toni, but was too young to understand what she and her mom and four siblings were going through at the time. Her mom did her best to keep things as normal as possible for their family.
Air Force Lt. Col. Raymond Vissotzky returned home to his family in 1973. He had missed 5 ½ years of seeing his children grow up. I have never forgotten the Vissotzky family and it is their story that inspired the beginning of the poem.
Vietnam 10 14 58 took me the better part of three days to write. I started it on Saturday morning and finished it just in time to recite it at the benefit concert on Monday night.
This poem is dedicated to The Raymond and Jo Vissotzky family and VVA Chapter 913 in Branson, Missouri.
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